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share: Angels and Demons That Play by Paul Sears

By Anthony Garone

Let's take a dive into the autobiography of Paul Sears, drummer for the experimental band, The Muffins.

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Interview Transcript

This transcript is in progress. Here’s the first 16 minutes…

[Drumroll. Laughter.]

AG: Paul Sears is a drummer who has a really crazy history.

PS: Fact!

AG: And he has detailed a lot of amazing stories about his career in his new book. It’s called Angels & Demons. It’s published by Stairway Press.

PS: Angels & Demons That Play!

AG: Angels & Demons That Play! Yes. So, it’s a new book on Stairway Press. It’s a really great book. I’ve known Paul a few years now. We met on Craigslist.

PS: 2011?

AG: Yeah, something like that. I knew you were an amazing drummer, but I didn’t know that you could write! This is a great book, man! [Laughs.]

PS: Good. I’m glad you liked it. It was a real chew to do.

AG: Yeah.

PS: I’ve always liked to talk. I’ve had the gift of gab. Basically what that book is is me gabbing and writing it down.

AG: Yeah. Well, it’s funny because as I was reading it, I could hear you speaking. I read this whole book in your voice. And it’s very clearly your voice.

PS: And you didn’t go insane?

AG: No, I didn’t. Before we got too deep into that, for people who don’t know much about you or your history, why don’t you share some of the major highlights of bands you’ve been in and work you’ve done?

PS: Well, for most of 40 years, I was in a group called The Muffins.

[Walking the Duck excerpt]

PS: Based in Washington, DC and we started a home-grown record label back in the 70s. The Muffins were, oh gosh, probably the 5th or 6th band that I was in. I joined up with a group of people, The Muffins, who were amazingly the only people in that area, or anywhere that I had run into at that time at the young age of 22, that were into the Virgin Records and the European progressive rock scene. Henry Cow, Fred Frith, Gong, yada yada yada, and they were the only people that I had ever met in my life that were into that sort of scene and listened to that kind of music. So, it was like a ready-made club. We got on really, really great and made a splash in the 70s and we lasted until 1981. Our last album then during the Mark II phase was with Fred Frith and that’s actually resulted in my favorite record of ours ever, which is 185.

AG: It’s right there.

PS: All right. That’s the only record that we made after a tour where we really knew the music when we walked into the studio. We knocked that thing out in two days of recording, three days of assembly and mixing, and then off to New York for mastering.

AG: Is that the record where in the book you share a story about doubling your drum part and it was so precise…

PS: Not me, not me. It was Tom Scott’s saxophone part. It was the alto solo that’s in The Antidote to Dry-Dock tune. He had played that solo the same way for so long it became a part and it’s pretty insane solo. It’s probably 20 seconds long, if that, but listen to it.

[Antidote to Dry-Dock excerpt]

AG: I did today before you came over.

PS: After Tom played that, the engineer and Fred were having a chuckle and said, “Wow. Bet you can’t do that again.” And Tom said, “Take the first track out and give me another track.” And I thought those gentlemen were going to wet their pants because it was so spot-on, you can’t tell it’s two saxophones. But we knew our parts.

AG: So after 185…

PS: After 185, The Muffins sort of ennui set in. A couple of these guys were starting families and so the band drifted apart. Billy and I kept the house for about another year and then he started a family. My dad got ill. He was diagnosed with stomach cancer, so I moved home to help with family and not much music happened of any organized fashion until the very late 80s when I went to see a dear friend of mine’s group, the Teresa Gunn Band. Great group from the Washington area. She had an amazing bass player. He was playing far beyond what the music needed. He was really quite the hambone. This was a guy named Mark Smoot. I decided, “Teresa, I just might swipe your bass player.” So in between sets, I got to talk to him and found out that he was not only a Muffins fan, but a fan of all the other stuff that we all shared in common with The Muffins. So, he and I played together for about a month, just the two of us improvising and building on systems, then we built a band called Chainsaw Jazz.

[Chainsaw Jazz excerpt]

AG: And then you got back together with The Muffins…

PS: Well that… gosh [whistles]. Long time there. Back when the web became publicly available, I jumped on it and, just for spits and giggles, I started looking around for The Muffins and I’m like, “Wow! There’s a page here about The Muffins on some newsgroup.” So I’d print it out. And then about three weeks later, I had filled up a notebook that fat with stuff people had been writing about The Muffins on the web, on various newsgroups, like alt.music.progressive, whatever it was back then in the early 90s. And so there was so much written about us, I got a bug up my butt to try to get the band back together. Nobody had any real confidence in that ever happening, but in 1998, while I was working with another group, 9353, I found the stars aligned and I had accumulated enough evidence to present to the guys that, “Hey! You’ve all had your families and paid your mortgages and all this neat stuff. You want to play some music again?” And, lo and behold, they did. So we had another run from 1998 that lasted until 2016, or 2015-2016.

AG: Right, and you released the Live at Orion DVD, which I’ve got right there.

PS: That was done in 2002 at Orion Sound Studios with the help of several of our friends. Tom–this is an amazing thing for you techno people out there–Tom Scott put together that DVD, edited it all together, rendered it, did everything on a Windows 98 DOS computer.

[Laughter.]

PS: I think it took him 72 hours to render it or something.

AG: All right, I’ve gotta watch it again with this new appreciation.

[Maya excerpt from Live at Orion DVD]

PS: So that’s pretty cool. And then we made several more albums after that. We went to Italy and we went to France and did not see the Queen’s underpants.

AG: [Laughs.] Alright, so you as a drummer, you’re one of the most powerful drummer I’ve ever heard play a kit. One of the things that astounded me so much about your playing is your ability to compose parts when the music may be so “off.” You know, like there’s just so little to grasp onto rhythmically or melodically, but somehow your parts unify everything. So I wanted to get a sense of where you’re coming from as a listener and as a musician and how do you view the drums compositionally in the context of a group like The Muffins?

PS: Well, two things come into play. One, I’ve been playing with other warm bodies in bands since 1967. So, I’ve got a lot of experience. I grew up with a lot of music that the 70s progressive-style bands were borrowing, so when I would hear Frank Zappa or Renaissance or Genesis or somebody, I’d go, “Oh, that’s Stravinsky. That’s Polank. That’s Jahanna Lane. That’s whatever.” So I had all this music in my brain thanks to my dad ever since I was a little kid. Improvising, I never really did until 1972. I was working with a very fine piano player named Steve Freeman. I have no idea where he is these days. He played grand piano and a Rhodes, but he preferred to play his Yamaha grand that he had in his apartment. He and I had jammed and he said to me, “One day, bring your drumset over to my house and we’re going to just do an improvisation. Just grand piano and the drums.” And it was one of the most liberating fun days I ever had, playing off this guy and having him play off me. So then, I went off later on and worked in a couple of more rock bands: Tinseled Sin and I went to New Jersey and worked with groups Pandemonium and Whisk. In Whisk, the guitar player, one of the main guys, was Kenny Siegel, who designed the Snarling Dog guitar effects pedals that you see everywhere nowadays. Really great guy. After a year or two of pooting around with them and having fun and joining the New Jersey musician’s union, which was a trip–AFLCIO and those guys in those days–I was frankly getting bored with the direction of the band. I’d go on back to visit my family over the holidays and I ran into my first ever bass player from my first band, Pepe Gonzalez. Pepe had since evolved and gotten heavy into jazz and he said, “Why don’t we do a fusion group? Like Weather Report, Mahivishnu-type thing?” So I said, “Okay!” So I went back to New Jersey and had to sever my ties with those guys. We’re all still friends. And came back to DC and built a band with Pepe. Again, I always start with a bass player if I’m going to start a project and I have any control over it whatsoever. I start with the bassist, get tight, and then I bring in other people. That’s what we did and we put together a really cool group called Magic Theater, which was–oh gosh, the biggest influence was probably 70s-era electric Miles [Davis]. You know, Garth [Webber] type stuff. And then, Pepe started bringing more straight up jazz into the picture and that’s anathema to me. I didn’t want to play in a jazz band. Didn’t then, don’t now.

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